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Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/65

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

on the mildness of the season. But we are not yet done with this bathing matter. The editor is determined to aprofondir the whole. Johnson spoke of the "unaccountable terror a child has for some things"; particularly of "putting into the water a child who is well." I really don't know how to approach these things with due gravity, but here we have our commentator earnestly assuring us that by "putting into the water" was meant "putting into the sea—for they were at Brighton."

Among numerous other startling things, we are told that Johnson did not know how to spell, that in our day spelling is a "mean" thing; that too much is thought of it. "It will bring comfort, methinks, to those who are ignorant to know that Johnson was as ignorant." I say nothing of these persons; but as to Johnson, he is altogether astray. Johnson spelt correctly, according to the standard of his day, but there were many words whose spelling was not fixed. "Gaiety" was sometimes "gayety." "Boswell" Johnson always spelt with one l, "harass" with two r's, and k was often added to "public" and such words. Who would think of calling such variations bad spelling?

Johnson, as we have seen, spelt "Boswell" with one l, and "Scott" with one t. This was almost a habit with him. On this spelling of "Scott" Dr B. Hill is perfectly astounding: "He was perhaps paying to the future Lord Stowell a delicate compliment." An odd fashion of complimenting, this, by docking one letter! But it was in this way: Lord Eldon, it seems, once sat next a gentleman who told him that he spelt his name "Scot," as being more distinguished. And therefore Johnson, perhaps, "intended a delicate compliment." And observe, Lord Eldon records it as an oddity, not as a compliment. Johnson, of course, "intended" nothing at all—spelling the word by a sort of instinct. It may be, however, that Dr B. Hill intends something facetious.

Johnson wrote proposing to go to Birmingham and Oxford. "And there (at Oxford) we will have a row, and a dinner, and a dish of tea." This seems plain. "But," says the editor, "I do not understand what this means." What does a row signify? Flying to the great Dictionary, he finds "row" explained as—what think you?—"A file, a rank, a number of things ranged in line." Johnson does not recognise the sense of "an excursion in a rowing boat." But he has the verb "to row," to take excursions in a rowing boat; and there are many illustrations given. Yet "I do not understand what this means." Neither "is it likely that in his weak health he would go on the river so late." Very probable; but Johnson was merely talking and planning, and possibly did not go on the river.

Johnson wrote to Garrick, in reference to their deceased friend, Dr Hawkesworth, that he had no letters of the latter. The editor tells us that there is a letter to Garrick from one Wray, who says he will leave to Goldsmith's friends the task of honouring his memory. From these two scraps the editor gravely concludes: "It is possible that Garrick planned memoirs of Goldsmith and Hawkesworth"! The idea of Garrick as a memoir-writer is rather novel. Further on, he tells us that the edition of Hawkesworth's life and writings was being actually prepared by Ryland. Garrick had merely asked Johnson for letters. As to the Goldsmith theory, the editor demolishes it for us himself, for he says timorously: "Perhaps Wray refers only to Goldsmith's monument in Westminster Abbey"! So he does.

There is a "Caled" Harding mentioned: "A misprint, I conjecture, for Caleb." But why not apply to his faithful and oft-consulted Gentle-